Heere bigynneth the Greyn-Manns Tale
Everything has a season, as the ecclesiast said. Though that silly bastard lived in a stone desert, so I wonder how he knew. I've seen enough blood and pain wash across this island -- and there'll be a lot more -- but now is Britain's springtime. Like the joyful farmer, I but sow the seeds. April along the road to Canterbury is a bountiful field to plow.
The Tabard Inn at Southwerk, hard by the Belle, is a rambling affair, a series of low, swaybacked roofs covered with turves. You can barely breathe inside for the poor-drafting chimneys, and the smell of pickled eels is enough to gag any sane man. Mucky rushes are pressed beneath multitudes of feet, for my little establishment is on the route where all good British Christians tread for fear of their God.
They don't know how lucky they are in their ignorance and grace. Back when the tides were young, I was shown all things. I even remember some of them -- if I knew everything, I would be the world.
And here's a man with a crooked nose and a gimpy leg earned in Italy, whom I have awaited for centuries. I offer my best smile. "Holla, Geffrey, and welcomen."
He is surprised, but long, hard years in England's service have smoothed his face to a mask. "Habe wee metten, goodman?"
"Youre renowne y-spraden afore you. An hundred pardons forr the familiernesse. Icham youre Hoost, Harry Bailey, also y-cleped Greyn."
With a tired shake of his head, he settles onto a rough bench and calls for wine. I tell the bar girl to fetch him the good stuff from the small casks, not the maroon vinegar we serve the churls, then sit next to him.
"Wher a-way, frend? Thes esse the sesoun forr Caunterbury, nou that Leuedy Wintar hafth puiten aside heo snows."
He attempts a gracious face. "Certes, that iourney esse a tale tolde an hundred tymes."
"But you er no ordinarie pilgrime. Youre servises in sondry londes forr the King er wel bi-spiken of. Forther, Ich here you er sumwat of a scriptour."
The graciousness ebbs, leaving something in his eyes between fear and despair. "Ichabbe mines lettrures," he admits, "but Ich moste maken obseisaunces to Oure Louerd, and find mineself a quiet liuing."
This is the moment I have to turn the man, like a gardener binding a weak vine to a post. This is the moment that will launch an entire culture.
"The life of a scriptour esse quiet," I say, "and there er as many tales as graines on a strand. Every--"
Then, damn my eyes, I am interrupted. A drunken miller bursts into the Tabard, in heated argument with some belted knight's squire. There are shouts in the muddy street outside. A caravan of travelers is arriving, and they are a noisy, fractious lot.
Chaucer shrugs. "Youre effort atte suasion esse losen, lordynge Greyn, forr youre gests ouer-take you."
Not lost, but won. My vision was imperfect. Already a stout woman swathed in red approaches, eager for fresh ears, and perhaps fresh lips. The argument borne in from the street rises louder amid calls for eels and mead. It remains only for me to ensure they each tell him their tales.
Copyright © 2003 Joseph E. Lake, Jr.
Jay Lake lives in Portland, Oregon, with his family and their books. In 2003, his work is appearing in diverse markets such as Realms of Fantasy, Writers of the Future XIX, and The Thackeray T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases. For more about him and his work, see his website. To contact him, send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stars in the Sky